September 9, 2020: LA? More like Hell-A (you lizard scum)

It has been quite the week. 

It\’s nearly 8:00 am as I being to write this. I\’m listening to XTC. I have had the song Complicated Game stuck in my head all day; the lyrics are almost too relevant. 

I dropped Caitlin off at the airport at 6am; I missed an exit, which led me to drive the most agressively I have ever driven. Weaving through traffic with my pedal on the floor in my slow car is, in comparison, about as scary as moderate traffic on I-5 on a motorcycle. 

Right now I\’m in the mood to fight. I told-off a college friend who I was once close with but disagreed with. (We were close enough so that I joined her for Thanksgiving in Eastern Washington a few years ago.) I sent her an agressive-passive-agressive message, waited for a response and blocked her. —Petty but not wrong. Despite our history, it was time to cut the baggage.

This past week I have been looking for for excuses to delete people off of my Instagram friends list. It feels relieving despite how petty it is. As much as I would like to think that social media doesn\’t matter, it is actually a big part of my life. It wouldn\’t be right to throw my phone in the blender, so I best make due with what I have.

I realized that I have been hanging too tightly onto internet friends/connections. I also didn\’t realize how many acquaintances that I regularly checked up on don\’t follow me back, which makes me feel like a fucking idiot; I don\’t like giving my attention away for free like that. I\’ve maintained a falsely inflated sense of social connection for too long.

I broke up with my therapist over email. She sent me this email:

Dear Andy,
Of course, you can end your therapy with me at any time and for any reason. However, I wonder if you would agree to one more session to bring our work to a thoughtful end. The abruptness we both experienced last week can leave you feeling that what you’ve accomplished over the past months amounted to little rather than giving dignity to your accumulated efforts.
You may also help me to understand where I disappointed you so that you needed to cut the work short.

She wanted to know where things went wrong, and the evidence is right there in the email she sent. She used the word disappointed. Why the fuck does a therapist need my approval? I\’m not disappointed. But the fact that that is how she worded it is a red flag; yes, maybe she meant something else, but the phrasing is a real red flag. Plus, therapy is literally never over. There is never a good time to stop going into analysis; the drama of human life is infinite—always an open end left to tie off. Stories and art offer a sense of completion, and many of the most excellent works are left open.

I\’m curious what this will look like in hindsight. Was my therapist getting too close to the root of a problem when my defenses kicked in? Or was our rapport problematic? No one knows—not even the shadow because he\’s too involved. I hope time will make things clearer. 

I would leave therapy very angry and in a bad mood more often than not over the past month or so. That too is enough. My decision to cut ties was correct.

I met up with Billy last week. We had a beer and caught up. We were both with the 3-2 General Support Aviation Battalion at Camp Humphreys. We only hung out once or twice maybe. But that one time we hung out I gave him an excessively large Mexican hat while I wore a poncho and a sharpie mustache, and we went around the barracks and the \’Ville just outside the base. I played guitar, and he played percussion (a trashcan). He says that while we were out in the \’Ville there was a general coming through and some officers were scouting areas beforehand and they needed us to leave. Supposedly we ran into that general that night; that\’s how he tells the story, and he tells it well. I don\’t remember details of that night. I might have been drinking too much that night. Those were strange times.

So, Billy and I caught up after six years, and he invited me to join him on a roadtrip to LA four days later. Caitlin asked me if I was prepared to spend a long time in the car with someone I don\’t know well. But I told her that we were both in the army, and he deployed. Military people know how to deal with each other in confined spaces for long periods of time. We have a certain kind of stoic social-awareness that says, \”we\’re both suffering, so let\’s do whatever it takes to make this suck less.\” If someone left the military under honorable conditions, chances are they know how to behave reasonably enough.

This weekend was the worst weekend to go. The area experienced record breaking heat, and there were massive forest fires along the way that made a 9am trip down I-5 look like a 9pm trip through a reasonable-sinner\’s rural neighborhood in hell: the sky was totally dark, gray, thick blanket of smoke, but there was an orange glow on the horizon which gave a sense of dubious hope.

Billy didn\’t say where exactly where we were going. I just assumed we were going to be visiting friends that he had met in the army. —Nope. We met his VRChat friends. Before we arrived I had never heard of VRChat. VRChat is…interesting, worth a google. So it turns out that the people we were staying with are also interesting.

We stayed with B and Ela. B is an entrepreneurial mid-twenty-something. Ela—Ela Darling—is a pornstar (probably one of the better educated porn stars by a significant margin)—a legit porn star whose level of success and fame I only began to realize when Billy and I left their house and I saw that she had 30k Instagram followers. And then seeing this Rolling Stone article after a quick google really made the gravity of her reach sink in. —Not that she\’s particularly famous, but still, it\’s more than I had expected on this trip. I mean, I don\’t know anyone else who gets invited to the AVN Awards.

Ela and I had a multi-hour long conversation on Saturday. I took a few notes on my phone. Here they are:

\”First learn how to direct your own focus. But then a big part of conversations is learning to direct others\’ focus.\”

\”My default mode is dialogue.\”

\”Mask Maker\”

The majority of our conversation revolved around the topic of persona, which was a particularly apt conversation because actresses, especially those in porn need serious persona management. They need to create distinct boundaries within their lives, dividing between fans and friends, nearly-never letting their fans slip too close.

I won\’t be able to recreate our conversation. But I\’m going to write what I got out of it. 

Persona is the mask we put on whenever we\’re in a social setting; (I could argue that we always use a persona to interface with our environment). It\’s our interface. It\’s our filter. It is our face. It directs our focus. Our self is too complex, too multifaceted, too nebulous, too paradoxical, and too liable to injury to rawdog the things of this world.

Learn to Direct Your Focus
The persona is a lens that focuses on what matters—that is, on what it presumes matters. When you\’re driving, you\’re focusing the road. When you\’re talking to someone you\’re looking at body language, or if you\’re like me, you direct your spotlight-of-consciousness on yourself (creating a feedback loop of anxiety) even though it would be better to focus on common interest.

Learn to Direct Their Focus
There is a wrong way of approaching this idea that goes something like \”manipulate people into focusing on what matters to you.\” Rather, we ought to comport ourselves in a way that reflects what we are trying to do. This is why people wear suits at work and sexy clothes in clubs. And there are more subtle ways of managing this, both positive and negative. Every conversation involves a dance of illumination and censorship, for we all are Legion

When two people are talking, it\’s like their both trying to reference a similar point a space—a shared subject or a goal. An effective persona drives forward the conversation by highlighting certain things and dimming others. Sometimes deep emotions need the spotlight, and other times they don\’t.

We are all responsible for comporting ourselves. 

The Mask Maker
This came as a vivid fantasy. I saw my nebulous self—an unknowable mass from which my consciousness was arising, and I saw from the mass, many arms growing in various directions and at the end of each was a mask. And I heard a soft voice ask, \”where is the mask maker?\” After this I saw three things: The Self, the Mask Maker, and the Masks. 

Personas arise without effort—just like trees and weeds. Also like trees and weeds, they can be cultivated. Most people allow nature to do all of the work; sometimes this works perfectly, for there are many great trees in the forest. 

I think that acting is the highest form of persona management. It is the deliberate formation of a persona according to the needs of the situation—whether on a stage or not. My intuition says that actors know how to manage a social situation effectively using their persona. They are mask makers. 

Lastly, I realized that I was really really really bad at persona management in the army, at school, and at AWS. The professional world that I had entered was extremely impersonal and collective, while I acted like a lost child with a bleeding heart in my shirt pocket, in search of praise, desperately promising to do my very best.

My Default Mode is Dialogue
While Ela and I were talking I noticed that we were talking in a very different way than Billy and B. Ela and I were going back and forth discussing ideas while Billy and B were very laughing while providing commentary. This is when I realized that there are different styles of conversation, and I default to dialogue (and monologue). I try to get people to speak with me in a Socratic way where we discuss topics to arrive at true (truer) conclusions.

  • Debate
  • Dialogue
  • Monologue
  • Flirtation
  • Storytelling
  • Lecture
  • Bullshitting 
  • misc.
  • etc.

Each mode requires its own persona. When in a conversation, both peoples\’ personas have to match up. (Not everyone wants to or is capable of engaging in socratic dialogue.)

If you can help it, don\’t be star struck—especially pornstar star struck. It is a fetter to good conversation.

I just bought an app that is going to help me unfollow my non-followers. I need my daily greyhounds-and-memes fix, but I have reddit for that sort of thing.

Guess I\’ll have to unfollow Ela on Instagram since she doesn\’t follow me back. Oh well.

Paraphrasing a bit from The Art Spirit

\”The class of free men is small: so many of them are ground to dust by the wheel of poverty while many others are in prison. They have an idea that they live by, and they are true to it, for it is the only way they know.\”

A voice spoke this morning:
Would you rather follow your soul into hell, or would you die an unwitting slave?

Dune trailer just dropped. I am hyped.

\”The hype must flow,\” said a redditor. 

Current earworm: 

A little girl asked me should she part her hair upon the left
A little girl asked me should she part her hair upon the right, no
I said it really doesn\’t matter where you part your hair
For someone else will come along and move it
And it\’s always been the same
It\’s just a complicated game
It\’s just a complicated game

—Complicated Game by XTC 

Ambivalence—ambiguous valence.

Two enemies and a third thing—star on the horizon, transcending our petty lives.

I just realized that becoming a published in a philosophy journal isn\’t as cool as writing a good reddit post and communicating with peers in a democratic fashion. More people will read a reddit post, as will younger people. Writing on reddit isn\’t as sexy (i.e. formally respected) as getting published in a real journal. But I\’ll be damned if it isn\’t quite meaningful. 

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